Slovakia will hold a snap parliamentary election at the end of September, so we can surmise that it's in for a scorching hot summer. The polls are currently showing two main favorites, one being the HLAS-Social Democracy party led by Peter Pellegrini. The party's vice-chair is the former Minister of Interior Denisa Saková.
How do you feel about the survey published at the Globsec summit that shows the Slovak public opinion slowly shifting from supporting Ukraine to, let's call it, an "understanding" of the Russian aggression?
Here in Slovakia, we battled for many months with a government fraught with chaos, quarrel, and incompetence, which had the lowest level of confidence out of all the governments in Slovakia's independent history. Not even during Vladimír Mečiar's reign was the government as unpopular as it was now. And in the midst of all these circumstances, when the government was failing left and right, the people were asked to evaluate the developments in the war and the support of Ukraine, which was communicated and overseen by a government with record low polling numbers and its representatives. Furthermore, when the government was failing to help its own people during the pandemic or the period of high inflation, it tried to get some credit abroad by aiding Ukraine, which is what led to the results you mentioned.
Does this change anything about the election campaign of your party HLAS-SD? What do you think is the biggest issue that Slovakia faces today?
That, according to Eurostat numbers, it has dropped to become the second poorest country in the EU; the only one trailing us is Bulgaria. Our food inflation is twice the EU average. Basic foodstuffs and necessities are more expensive here than in Germany or Austria, meaning rich Western European countries; and the much lower wages are being suppressed further by record inflation. And that is the clear message of our party: we will take care of our people, our nation, and if we do well enough, we can also help Ukraine. Because otherwise, the people's opinions turn sour, which is what we're witnessing today. And such situations require that the state employ a firm hand when dealing with the issue of an energy and food crisis.
Slovakia has been through a nearly nine-month-long period without a proper government. Was this also caused in part by the indecisiveness of President Zuzana Čaputová who kept the no-confidence government in power until the very last moment?
Eduard Heger's government toppled in December last year. In January, we notified Madam President that she should immediately appoint a caretaker government and insist that a snap parliamentary election be held as early as possible, even before the summer. She did not do that. We consider that a failure on her part. Then we were stuck with the no-confidence government for several more months and we've now been waiting for nearly two months to see what effective solutions the caretaker government will put forth in the fight against high food prices and record inflation. What's more, this government is not authorized to implement numerous measures, which is a constitutional limitation for a caretaker government, nor does it have a mandate from the people. That's why we, as an opposition party, have been proposing solutions that can help the people.
Does the caretaker government of Ľudovít Ódor have your confidence? How important is the fact that Slovakia is now being led by a person of Hungarian origin?
The caretaker government did not win the vote of confidence in the Parliament. Its fundamental task is to steer Slovakia towards the snap parliamentary election. To salvage the Recovery Plan and draw down European funding. To audit the state after months of rule by an incompetent government. And if the prime minister is of Hungarian origin? Prime Minister Ódor is a Slovak citizen; our relations with Hungary and Hungarians living in Slovakia are good today, they're nothing like in the 90s.
During the last three years, Slovakia has been in an anti-corruption battle between judges, prosecutors, policemen, people with ties to politics... Is it now cleansed of corruption?
Every party has election slogans to help them gain voters. I feel no different about the slogan "Cleansing the corruption" spouted by former Prime Minister Igor Matovič. He won the 2020 election with that same slogan. Only to rule for three years, during which he utilized those words in many political disputes and compromised the fight for justice through acts such as having his political opponents arrested. All of that is further suffused with an air of suspicion that things were done without regard to consequences, with the thinking that the ends justify the means, often at the cost of breaking the law. As a former minister of interior I promote the principle that every criminal act must be properly investigated and the perpetrator punished according to the law. And everything needs to happen within the legal framework. I followed this principle as minister of interior, and I hope that the future government will see it as one of its priorities.
If it is possible to form a majority government from democratic, pro-Western parties without Robert Fico and his SMER-SD party after the election, would you prefer such a government?
What the new Slovak government will look like will be known after the votes are counted on October 1, 2023. Until then, this is all just conjecture. You know, we like to follow the Slovak saying, "Don't cut the bear while it's still running in the woods" (Translator's note: equivalent to "don't count your chickens before they're hatched").
Have you considered running for the European Parliament where the election will be held next year?
I must admit that neither the presidential nor the European Parliament elections are on the agenda right now. We're staying fully invested in the election campaign until the end of September and working for Slovakia in the Parliament, at home. Our party HLAS-SD will start dealing with other topics when they become pertinent and when their time comes.
The author is a European editor of Deník
Denisa Saková (born April 17, 1976, in Nitra) is a former minister of interior in Peter Pellegrini's government.
She graduated in economics and worked in the IT sector since the year 2000.
She started at the ministry of interior in 2007, first as the director of the IT department, and later as director of one of its service departments.
Saková did a great deal of work on preparing Slovakia to enter the Schengen Area. In 2016, she ran for the parliament for the SMER party and was elected an MP, but later gave up her seat due to becoming deputy state minister of interior.
In April 2018, she was appointed minister of interior, leading the ministry until March 2020. She was once again elected MP for SMER in the February election, moving on to the newly formed HLAS-Social Democracy party led by Peter Pellegrini in summer 2020. She is currently the vice-chair of this party.
Denisa Saková is divorced and has a son.
At a meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council (2019)